Public Comment Deadline Nears on Proposed Major WIPP Expansion
September 20 is the deadline for public comments and request for a hearing on the proposal to expand by about 30 percent the amount of radioactive and hazardous waste allowed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). On August 6th, the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on the request by the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) to change the way the amount of waste has been measured for more than two decades.
The request explains that the effect of the change would reduce the amount of waste emplaced in WIPP as of December 6, 2017 by 930,000 cubic feet, from 3,238,673 cubic feet to 2,307,708 cubic feet. Nevertheless, DOE has not explained where the additional waste would be disposed since there is not space in the existing underground rooms, nor why the change is needed when WIPP is less than 60 percent filled.
WIPP is a deep geologic repository for plutonium-contaminated transuranic waste, also known as TRU waste, created by manufacturing nuclear weapons. It located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Because the federal WIPP Land Withdrawal Act limits the amount of waste to 6.2 million cubic feet, how to measure the amount of waste is important. Waste emplaced at WIPP has always been measured based on the volume of the container. By container volume is the way DOE has always reported to Congress how much waste is at WIPP. By container volume is how DOE contractors have been paid and received performance bonuses. By container volume is the way that the WIPP Permit and permits in other states calculate the amount of waste.
The modification request would create an additional measurement, called the “Land Withdrawal Act TRU Waste Volume of Record [which] means the volume of TRU waste inside a disposal container.”
An unstated reason for the proposed measurement is that space for more than 1,000,000 cubic feet of waste has been forfeited or lost because of bad DOE management, poor contractor performance, and inefficiencies during the past 19 years of WIPP’s operations. Because of poor planning and other inefficiencies, DOE has shipped and disposed of many empty, or dunnage, containers; has not filled containers to capacity; yet the contractors have been paid fully – and in some cases received bonus. Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, explained his concern about expanding WIPP. He said, “For the Environment Department to allow much more waste risks the health and environment for all New Mexicans.”
Tags: Amigos Bravos, CCNS, CCW, Communities for Clean Water, Department of Energy, DOE, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, HOPE, LANL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, N3B Los Alamos, New Mexico Acequia Association, New Mexico Environment Department, Office of Environmental Management, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, stormwater permit, Tewa Women United